Earlier today, Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha officially launched Guyana’s newest rice variety, the GRAND 16, at the Burma Rice Research Station in Mahaicony.
While addressing a number of farmers from across the country, many of whom travelled from as far as Wakenaam and Leguan on the Essequibo Coast, the Minister said that rice and agriculture will remain a priority for the Government.
“Rice remains a strategic part of the Government’s plan for prosperity. Given the annual contribution to Guyana’s GDP, we can see that you, the rice farmers are making a tremendous contribution to the development of our country, which amounts to about $46.7B of foreign exchange in our country. The importance of this industry cannot be emphasised enough, and rest assured that the Government will not, in any way, shape or form, turn away from the rice industry. Government has made it very clear that rice is not a private business, but rather a Guyanese business,” Minister Mustapha said.
The variety, which has the potential to produce up to 60 bags per acre, an equivalent to an average of nine tonnes per hectare, has demonstrated several qualities that have been desired by rice farmers for a number of years. Earlier in the month, while the variety was still considered a candidate variety, Minister Mustapha, along with a team from the Ministry and the Rice Board, visited one of the demonstration plots in Region Three to get a first-hand look at the performance of the variety while under cultivation.
During the tour, it was observed that indeed, just as the data suggested, the GRDB16 had the characteristics of a premium game-changing variety which maintained its greenness throughout the crop, didn’t lodge as fast as the other varieties and can come through standing water of up to nine inches. It was also noted that the GRDB16 takes only 110 days to reach its maturity stage.
Minister Mustapha also told the gathering that the Government has been working closely with stakeholders to impact a positive change in the current conditions present in the sector.
“Since taking leadership of the agriculture sector, we have been working to address the constraints faced by farmers to strengthen the working relationships and work ethics of the main players in the industry, as well as supporting the research, development, and transfer of technology for the farmers. This is very important if we want to develop the rice industry in our country. We will provide a favourable environment and grant special incentives for all investors in the rice industry,” Minister Mustapha said.
Minister also said that rice remains the main staple of our population in terms of food security and now that the world is being threatened with food insecurity due to the negative impact on the productive sector as a result of the current global pandemic, COVID-19, rice has helped to secure Guyana’s status as a food-secure country.
For the past 15 years, the GRDB has been releasing new varieties of rice to farmers, each demonstrating improved characteristics from the previous one. To date, the GRDB has released nine varieties, each variety having higher yields than previously released varieties.
While making his presentation, GRDB Chief Scientist, Dr. Mahendra Persaud said that with this new variety, Guyana’s rice productivity levels will increase tremendously.
“While over 100 countries across the world produce rice, our yields are not way down at the bottom. It’s not in a happy moment that I can tell you that we are six tonnes per hectare. Just about 15 countries around the world have achieved over six tonnes per hectare. I would like to see our productivity increasing constantly, hopefully achieving seven tonnes per hectare in the coming years. This candidate variety that we launched today has demonstrated a good partnership between the researcher and the farmer, because without the farmers we couldn’t have achieved the type of results that we have today,” Dr. Mahendra said.
He also spoke about the need for new varieties in order to improve the production levels of the farmers.
“From 2005, the total production of rough rice in Guyana was just over 400,000 metric tonnes. By 2019, we’ve seen the production of over 1,000,000 metric tonnes of rough rice. Correspondingly, we’ve also seen that productivity at the farm level has increased from about four tonnes per hectare, for the same period in 2005, to ultimately six tonnes per hectare in 2019. This is a real achievement. This means a 50 per cent increase in productivity at the farm level. The farmers have been doing well and the technology that the research station has been able to deliver has been working well,” Dr. Mahendra said.
Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr. Madanlall Ramraj, while thanking farmers for making their lands available to be used as demonstration plots, said that the rice industry has been a success story for a number of years and that today’s achievement has put Guyana’s paddy and rice in a position where it is able to compete with other major rice producing nations across the world. The Director General further encouraged the scientists to continue on their quest to deliver varieties that have a tolerance for soils that have moderate salt levels, among other things.
IICA’s country representative in Guyana, Mr. Wilmot Garnett also disclosed that the organization has been working closely with the research arm of the Board to develop a bio-fortified variety of rice.
“This will be the first in Guyana and the first in the Region. We’re looking at high levels of Zinc. Dr. Persaud and his team have done quite a bit of evaluation and so far, we have some very good candidates. With the current pandemic, global health officials have been recommending that persons take their vitamin C and their Zinc. Now you can have it in your rice. We’ve seen where precision agriculture has become the new norm as Guyana continues to modernise its agriculture sector and certainly demonstrate leadership in the Region and elsewhere,” Mr. Garnett said.
Rice Producers Association Representative, Mr. Leakha Rambrich said that it is important for farmers to understand that while the GRAND 16 appears to have great potential, farmers must allow the variety to work its way up into the system.
“We’ve seen the danger in allowing one of our varieties to dominate 45 per cent of our country’s cultivation. This would not be good for the country in terms of pests and disease control. I’m sure farmers are very anxious to get seeds for this variety to go into the fields when you hear that this variety will give you over 50 bags per acre. I was one of the farmers involved in the demonstration plot exercise. As the RPA president, I can tell you that it has the potential, it is a very good variety and it would do well for the industry,” Mr. Rambrich said.
The RPA President also took the opportunity to condemn those millers who, for years, continue to take advantage of farmers, as well as address the high volumes of substandard quality of fertilisers that have appeared on the market over the past few years.
Farmers who attended the event all shared that they were eager to have seeds for this new variety to commence their first crop of 2021. One farmer who travelled from Wakenaam, said that he was impressed with the GRDB 15, and after hearing about the qualities of this new variety, remains optimistic that this new variety will boost his production significantly. (Department of Public Information)